Best Things to Do in Bradenton FL
Many visitors and residents are attracted to the area because of the miles of abundant sand, temperate water and outstanding weather. What they quickly find is that many charming shops, tantalizing meals, historical landmarks, cultural happenings and recreational/sports options await all ages and interests in Manatee County. Use this list — and the categorical listings of attractions, entertainment, shopping and retail, as well as culture and arts at the end of this book — as a go-to guide.
Art Galleries and Artists – The arts scene has so much to offer with galleries and artists offering work in a variety of mediums. Check out the Village of the Arts as well as galleries/studios like Fun Girl Art, J and J Gallery, and ArtCenter Manatee. artcentermanatee.org, fungirlart.com, jandjgallery.com, and villageofthearts.com
ArtCenter Manatee – Visitors can do everything from find unique gifts, to learn how to paint or draw, to create mosaics or pottery at ArtCenter Manatee. This premier visual arts mecca in downtown Bradenton has three galleries and five classrooms, as well as a library that contains more than 3,000 volumes. Exhibitions showcasing local and national artists change monthly. artcentermanatee.org
Asolo Repertory Theatre – This professional theater company performs primarily in the Mertz Theatre, a beautiful 500-seat turn-of-the-century facility originally built as an opera house in Dunfermline, Scotland. Additional performance space includes the Cook Theatre—a contemporary 161-seat venue. The acting company is known for producing high-quality professional theater in true rotating repertory. asolorep.org
Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary – It’s a roaring good time at this sanctuary. Guests learn about large felines and other exotic animals that have found permanent homes in this safe haven. Tortoises, a bear and ligers—a cross between a tiger and a lion—are residents, too. A petting zoo is fun for the young and young at heart. bigcathabitat.org
Bearadise Ranch – A unique attraction in a natural Florida setting, “Bearadise Ranch’’ is home to the famous Welde family bears and was established in 1926 to educate and generate public awareness for habitat preservation and conservation for all bear species.
Bishop Planetarium – The planetarium is a premier astronomy education facility, as well as a multimedia theater for films, lectures, live music and digital art performances. Guests explore the universe through traditional live star talks and immersive virtual journeys to the far reaches of the cosmos. southfloridamuseum.org
Bowlero Bradenton – Get the ball rolling at this popular alley. Bowlers love its retro-chic feel, offering 64 lanes in a newly renovated facility. After a solid game, guests can enjoy pool tables, dart boards, arcade games and more. bowlerocorp.com
Craft Breweries AND DISTILLERIES – Riding the wave of craft connoisseurs, Manatee County has craft breweries that are producing a wide range of award-winnings brews. From large beer gardens, to tasting rooms, to live music, you’ll find a great atmosphere and high-quality beers at Darwin Brewing Company, Motorworks Brewing, and Naughty Monk Brewery. You’ll also find craft spirits with Florida flare at Loaded Cannon Distillery. darwinbrewingco.com, loadedcannondistillery.com, motorworksbrewing.com, and naughtymonkbrewery.com
Dakin Dairy Farms – An eco-tourism destination, Dakin Dairy Farms’ visitors will make memories during harvest festivals, farm-to-fork dinners or a night of music under the stars. Tour the farm, check out the corn maze and sample an ice-cold glass of fresh milk. dakindairyfarms.com
Dancing – No matter the style of dance you are seeking, you’ll find opportunities to explore the art and fun of dance. Enjoy ballroom, Latin, jazz, hip, hop, ballet and more through programs at Wilson’s Dance Club International. wilsonsdanceclub.com
De Soto National Memorial Park – Step into the world of Spanish conquistadors and discover their place in Florida history at the park. Enjoy live re-enactments of Hernando de Soto’s historic landfall or explore trails winding alongside graceful mangroves lining the Manatee River. nps.gov/deso/index.htm
Dining – While in Manatee County, taste buds are always tempted. Partake of everything from the freshest seafood along Florida’s Gulf Coast to international cuisine to mouthwatering steaks, eclectic local spots and more. Check out the listings in this book’s directory for great dining suggestions.
Escape Adventures – Whether you go with friends, family or the office, escape rooms are all the rage for fun teambuilding activities. Puzzles, games, hints and clues add up to fun adventure at Escape Reality. escaperealitysarasota.com
Family Heritage House Museum at State College of Florida – This venue shares an array of literature, artifacts and resources that chronicle the cultural and historical achievements of African-Americans. The mission of the museum is to inspire children to have a passion for service, love of learning, respect for their ancestors and to assist in keeping the African-American culture vibrant and alive. familyheritagehousemuseum.com
Farmers Market – Eat healthy, shop fresh, and meet friends – our area’s farmer’s markets are a great place to connect and “think local.” Bradenton’s market October through May and Lakewood Ranch’s market is from December through April. realizebradenton.com and
Fishing – Florida fishing experiences range from tranquil backwater trips to open water, offshore game fishing. No matter the species you’re seeking, you’ll find plenty of excitement when you cast your line. Cortez Deep Sea Fishing and Annie’s Bait & Tackle are options for guided excursions. cortezdeepseafishing.com, anniesbaitandtackle.com
Florida Maritime Museum – The Florida Maritime Museum is a historic treasure occupying a 1921 schoolhouse. Visitors can learn maritime skills, listen to a lecture on the state’s history or just sit on the front porch and take in the tunes of the Cortez Grand Ole Opry—a Saturday jam session celebrating the rich musical heritage of the village. floridamaritimemuseum.org
Florida Railroad Museum – Guests can visit a Civil War camp before boarding the train to watch a battle between Confederate and Union soldiers. On most Saturdays, the Hole in the Head Gang thrills audiences when it stages a robbery and takes over the train. Be sure to check the museum’s calendar for special events throughout the year.
Gems and Fossils – Experience the wonder and excitement of finding crystals, gemstones, sharks teeth and fossils.
Golf – Championship courses in serene settings offer an abundance of places to play golf in Manatee County. Golfers will find great public, private and semi-private courses. Tee off at the Bradenton Country Club, Heritage Harbour Golf Club & Eatery, IMG Academy Golf Club, Lakewood Ranch Golf & Country Club, Palm Aire Country Club, Peridia Golf & Country Club, River Wilderness Golf & Country Club, Rosedale Golf & Country Club, Suncoast Golf Center, University Park Country Club or Waterlefe Golf & River Club, among others. Families and friends also enjoy Smugglers Cover Adventure Golf for a “miniature” golf experience. bradentoncc.org, heritageharbourgolfclub.com, imgacademygolfclub.com, lakewoodranchgolf.com, palmaire.net,
peridiagcc.net, riverwildernesscc.com, rosedalecountryclub.com, suncoastgolfcenter.com, universitypark-fl.com, waterlefegolfandriverclub.com and smugglersgolf.com
IMG Academy – This site is one of the world’s premier destinations for sports training. The academy is in full swing year-round, featuring training in nine sports disciplines, including golf, tennis, baseball, basketball and football, so athletes from across the globe have access to the resources they need for the results they want. imgacademy.com
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art – Featuring exhibitions, films, performances and more, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art spans 66 acres on beautiful Sarasota Bay. The grounds include the Circus Museum, which contains numerous artifacts from the famous family’s acts; Ca’D’Zan, John and Mable’s spectacular homestead; and the Historic Asolo Theater. ringling.org
LECOM PARK – Root for the home team as the Bradenton Marauders, a Class A-Advanced affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates, steps up to bat at LECOM Park. And every spring, Manatee County welcomes the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB Spring Training. With its multimillion dollar expansion and renovation, LECOM Park offers an award winning fan experience. pirates.com and bradentonmarauders.com
Makers Market and Workshops – Create the latest in painted wooden home décor through do-it-yourself guided workshops. Join a class or create your own group outing. makersmarketdiy.com
Manatee County Agricultural Museum – This museum co-hosts a wide variety of programs and events designed to appeal to people of all ages—Gospel and Games in the spring, summer socials, an annual Heritage Day Open House and adult educational programs are just some of the offerings. manateeclerk.com/historical/agmuseum
Manatee County Parks and Recreation – Get outdoors and explore the sites managed by the Manatee County Parks and Recreation department. Amenities range from beach access to rivers and aquatic preserves offering ample opportunities for picnics, swimming, fishing, hiking, sailing and more. Go jogging in a nature preserve or head out for a leisurely kayak paddle to enjoy a wealth of natural splendor. There are also many opportunities for youth and adult sports leagues, including soccer, tennis, softball kickball, and volleyball, to name a few. mymanatee.org/home/government/departments/parks-and-recreation.html
Manatee Players and Manatee Performing Arts Center – The award-winning local theater company produces amazing performances ranging from Broadway classics to new plays. The 2019 season includes “Ain’t Misbehavin”,” “Shirley Vanlentine,” “Clybourne Park” and “Barnum.” manateeperformingartscenter.com
Manatee County Fair – This 11-day event, held in January, is an annual entertainment favorite and showcase for agriculture and livestock. Attendees enjoy mouthwatering treats, thrilling midway rides, livestock shows, concerts and much more. manateecountyfair.com
Mixon Fruit Farms – Tour orange groves aboard the Orange Blossom Tram and learn about citrus history and production. Stop by the Groveside Café to sample fresh-squeezed juice and the famous Mixon Orange Swirl Ice Cream. mixon.com
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium – TripAdvisor’s 2015 Traveler’s Awards named this site the 5th Best Aquarium in the U.S. Meet sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish and more than 100 species of marine life at this world-class venue and research institution. mote.org
Music – Music lovers rejoice in the variety of offerings here. From the Asolo Repertory Theatre, Lakewood Ranch Music on Main, Main Street Live, Music in the Park, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra, Realize Bradenton, and Van Wezel to live performing groups offer something for everyone. The Bradenton Bluesfest attacts more than 6,000 blues fans from across the world. asolorep.org, lakewoodranch.com,
realizebradenton.com, sarasotaopera.org, sarasotaorchestra.org
Nathan Benderson Park – Nathan Benderson Park has been hosting regatta competitions since 2009. Beautiful waterways with straight shorelines and 2,200-meter racing lanes make it a natural destination for top teams from around the world. The facility also boasts an athletic training center, grandstands and a state-of-the art boat testing and maintenance facility. The park proudly hosted the World Rowing Championships. The park also hosts a number of other outdoor events, including running, equestrian and live music offerings.
Outdoor Water Adventures – Opportunities to enjoy the incredible beauty—and adventure—on our waterways abound. Whether you prefer quiet paddle time on the water or more adventurous excursions, visitors and residents alike cherish the liquid paradise you’ll find in Manatee County. For great ideas and help in planning, try Anna Maria Island Dolphin Tours, Annie’s Bait and Tackle, Book a Little Sunshine, Riverside Tours, Suncoast Aqua Ventures and YOLO Adventures. amidolphintours.com, anniesbaitandtackle.com, bookalittlesunshine.com, bradentonbeachmarina.com, riversidetoursinc.com, suncoastaquaventures.com, floridafunboat.com
Parker Manatee Aquarium – The 60,000-gallon aquarium is a leader in research and care of this beloved species. Many celebrations take place at the aquarium year-round, including the ever-popular Snooty Birthday Bash, filled with activities and fun for every member of the family. southfloridamuseum.org/theaquarium
Professional Sports – Whether it’s football, baseball or hockey, Manatee County has sports enthusiasts covered. Just a short drive from Bradenton, fans can see the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers hit the gridiron in the fall. Things heat up when the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning takes to the ice at the Amalie Arena in Tampa. Baseball calls when Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays swing their bats at Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg. During MLB Spring Training, baseball enthusiasts get up close and personal with their favorite players while cheering for the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park in downtown Bradenton. Spring and summer bring lots of opportunities to cheer on the Bradenton Marauders, also at LECOM Park. buccaneers.com, tampabaylightning.com, raysbaseball.com, pirates.com and bradentonmarauders.com
Riverwalk – With an amphitheater, a skateboard park, a splash park, a day boat dock, sand volleyball court and much more, the award-winning Riverwalk—in downtown Bradenton along the Manatee River—is the perfect place to attend a concert or festival, or walk, run or bike or take the kids for a great day of play. realizebradenton.com/riverwalk
Sarasota Film Society – For more than 20 years, the society has rolled out the red carpet with international flair as visitors and celebrities attend the Cine-World Film Festival every November. The event features some of the richest independent and artistic movies in the world. filmsociety.org
Sarasota Opera – Touching and unforgettable performances take place year-round at Sarasota Opera. The opera house offers an intimate setting to enjoy classics and more. sarasotaopera.org
The Sarasota Orchestra – Performing more than 100 concerts each year with enlivening pops, family and classical options, the Sarasota Orchestra is dedicated to excellence in performance and education. The orchestra has been entertaining music lovers from the region and around the world for more than 65 years. sarasotaorchestra.org
Sarasota Polo Club at Lakewood Ranch – Since 1991, the club has provided the perfect locale for an exhilarating day of action or a serene setting for picnics. Matches are scheduled every Sunday afternoon December through April. Catch a ride on a wagon led by Clydesdales for a unique way to end the day. Leashed dogs are welcomed, too. sarasotapolo.com
Shopping – Manatee County is a shopper’s paradise with everything from trendy boutiques and funky second-hand shops to the large-scale retail magnets and more. And we always encourage residents and visitors alike to choose Manatee Chamber members for their patronage.
South Florida Museum – Explore the rich heritage and culture of the Gulf Coast region at the South Florida Museum. In the heart of downtown Bradenton, the museum recently opened a new wing exploring Florida’s ecology and biodiversity. Collections range from fossils to early 20th century medical equipment and artifacts. It also houses the Parker Manatee Aquarium and Bishop Planetarium.
State College of Florida Fine Art Gallery – The State College of Florida (SCF) Fine Art Gallery holds fast to traditions but steps into bold new bounds inside an inclusive and innovative gallery. Objects from the permanent collection are displayed on all three SCF campuses. scf.edu/academics/fineperformingarts/fineartgallery
State College of Florida Music Program – Melody lovers will delight in SCF’s music program. The department regularly features performances and recitals by the staff, the symphonic band, the symphonic orchestra, the jazz band and more. Audiences are in for a special treat during the holidays multiple performances to celebrate the season. scf.edu/academics/music/musicperformances.asp
Studio 84 Productions – The SCF Department of Fine and Performing Arts stages musicals, mysteries and dramas under the name of Studio 84 Productions. All performances are presented in either the Neel Performing Art Center or the new David S. & Anne V. Howard Studio Theatre on campus. scf.edu/academics/dramaticarts/studio84
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall – This auditorium brings big names and star-studded productions to the Manatee-Sarasota region. From gala holiday specials to adult contemporaries and international ballets, comedies, and symphony orchestras, performances are second to none. vanwezel.org
Village of the Arts – Village of the Arts is an award-winning community of eclectic galleries, studios, restaurants and shops. Old meets new in a cascade of colorful cottages where artists live and work. Artisans produce a variety of intriguing original works, including pottery, paintings, mosaics, sculpture and collages, all available at local shops. Restaurants offer eclectic dining in the heart of the village. Take a walking tour every first Friday as part of the Village Artwalk. villageofthearts.com
Vineyards – Enjoy locally-produced wine as you stroll among the grapevines. Special tastings tours, and events make great excursions with friends. Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery and Fiorelli Winery & Vineyards. bunkerhillvineyard.com, fiorelliwinery.com s